Meet the innovators leading the way in Black Skincare
There’s a reason the saying goes “She’s comfortable in her own skin.”
Skin is not only one of the most obvious and memorable features of a person, but also creates an important protective barrier against injury and hazardous substances.
But what if you couldn’t care for your skin in the way it needs to be? What if you didn’t have access to safe, effective, and affordable products or the expertise and guidance of professionals in the space?
For far too long the skincare available to consumers has only represented some of the faces we see in our communities. Members of the Black community face a lack of consumer products available tailored to their specific needs. In addition, lack of research and education around skin of color can lead to difficulty for patients identifying healthcare professionals to treat or diagnose various skin disorders impacting Black patients. In the United States, only 3% of dermatologists are Black, and skin health industry research skews towards light categories of Fitzpatrick scale, a system which classifies skin type according to pigmentation.
That’s why we looked to the innovation ecosystem for potential solutions. Together with Johnson & Johnson Innovation, we launched a programming series and QuickFire Challenge, inviting Black innovators from across the United States to submit potential skin and scalp health solutions for the chance to receive grant funding and mentorship from experts across the Johnson & Johnson Family of Companies to help advance their science.
We received tremendous submissions from all over the country, and three companies were selected to compete in the final pitch competition, with one company ultimately taking the top spot.
Meet the talented finalists and awardee of the Black Innovators in Skin Health QuickFire Challenge:
MEET FINALIST NUEKIE: African medicine with modern science to address hyperpigmentation
Growing up, Eunice Cofie-Obeng was picked on because of the color of her skin. “I was called all kinds of names, which took a toll on my self-esteem,” Cofie-Obeng explained. “My father introduced me to science – which brought me a love of exploring and finding who I am in the world.”
“[Through my research I found] skin of color has a unique color and structure to it, but there aren’t many products that were addressing the common skin disorders you would find in black skin.”
Nuekie, based in Hampton, Virginia, creates innovative health and beauty products for people of color. The team combines traditional African medicine with modern science to address hyperpigmentation. Nueke has created an end-to-end skin care system containing four products specifically designed for the unique function and structure of black skin.
“The next wave [in healthcare] is traditional African medicine. There are a whole host of plants, and African plant actives that have not been traditionally incorporated into skincare products. This is what makes us unique.”
In addition to the company’s line of products, Eunice and her team emphasize the importance of consumer and clinician education. The team has launched various educational opportunities such as virtual webinars, Facebook and Instagram lives and has even hosted a conference for estheticians to learn more about treatment and care for skin of color.
“Men and women of color are hungry for information regarding skincare, which is a driving force for products like ours.”
MEET FINALIST K’EPT Health: A Virtual Dermatology Clinic for Women, by Women
For Sheena Franklin, what started as an allergic reaction led to a multi-year journey suffering through painful steroid shots, stubborn post inflammatory hyperpigmentation, and piles of unused prescriptions and products. This was coupled with the frustrating search for a dermatologist with the experience and knowledge to treat her skin as an African-American woman with an integrated whole-person care approach.
“All women have the same two problems – anxiety about finding the right dermatologists and frustration over the wrong diagnosis and treatment. Women of color have an added layer of anxiety and frustration,” explained Franklin. “Women of color should not have to bear the burden of finding the quality of care that they deserve or be responsible for guessing on what will happen when they use a particular product.”
To help fill these gaps, Franklin founded K’ept Health, a first of-its-kind modern digital dermatology clinic rooted in inclusive AI. Based in Washington D.C. and a resident at the new JLABS @ Washington, D.C., K’ept Health’s wrap-around telemedicine mobile app aims to provide personalized care from highly-vetted board certified dermatologists and medical estheticians experienced in skin of color and integrative dermatology through virtual visits, private messaging, and skin-health monitoring for personalized recommendations.
K’ept Health also aims to offer a comprehensive system with the potential to identify skin conditions on skin of color. Starting with a patented system of 2 million faces, K’ept collects and validates ongoing data through strategic partnerships with leading research universities and skin of color clinics along with participation from willing app members. The team’s mission is to improve the delivery of care and the patient-consumer experience with prescribed and over the counter products.
“[Our consumer] feels safe knowing we treat her as a person, and not a condition, and more specifically not as an other.”
MEET AWARDEE EADEM: Confidence in the Skin You’re In
For entrepreneurs, the drive for innovation and change usually starts with a personal story, or a certain moment in their life. For Marie Kouadio Amouzame, it was in 2014.
“I went into a department store and wanted to buy foundation. Going in ready to buy the product, I was looking for a shade like the one of a celebrity who had recently been endorsing it,” explained Amouzame. “The store clerk looked at me and told me they didn’t carry my shade.”
For Alice Lin Glover, it was a different story. Suffering from cystic acne growing up, her mission was not only to bring more inclusive skin care to the market, but to have clean and affordable products available to women of color. “Clean products for women of color are still a novel concept,” explained Glover. “Not only should we make these types of products for women, but we should bring them something that they can feel proud to have on their vanities.”
Co-founders Glover and Amouzame channeled these experiences into creation. The team launched, EADEM. Located in New York City, the skincare brand seeks to pioneer “Smart Melanin Beauty,” with products that combine science-backed ingredients and heritage botanicals to care for skin of color effectively and gently.
For women of color hyperpigmentation can be a challenge. It can linger for months and is common for members of the black, Hispanic, and Asian community. With people of color making up 80% of the global population, and statistics such as African-Americans purchasing 9x more hair and beauty products than other groups and Asian-Americans spending 70% more than the national average on skincare products, EADEM recognizes a need for their product in the market. In order to ensure they are meeting their target market, the team is building a multi-national group testing on the skin tones and people they hope to serve.
Along with their passion for clean inclusive products, the team is also focused on sustainability. “All of our products and packaging are sustainable,” said Amouzame. “We know that communities of color are one of the first victims of global warming and climate change, and we didn’t want to add to that.”
Currently in the height of their first product launch, the team continues to look towards the future. “Our wildest dream is to be able to build a large company, have our own lab and do our own research on people with skin like us,” said Amouzame. “There is still so much to know, and we are just getting started.”
Most immediately, the team is focused on expanding their skincare line, while others in the market are focusing on other areas such as make-up. “For us it is not about covering up, which is something we learned from our culture,” explains Glover. “We are about embracing confidence in the skin you are in.”
As the awardee in the Black Innovators in Skin Health QuickFire Challenge, EADEM will receive $50,000 in grant funding, mentoring from experts across the Johnson & Johnson Family of Companies, and access to the Johnson & Johnson Innovation - JLABS ecosystem.
All of these innovators are working to help forge the future, and we are inspired by their stories, technologies, and drive.
“The Black Innovators in Skin Health programming and QuickFire Challenge is just the beginning,” shares Kerry Sullivan, Vice President of Marketing & Customer Strategy and General Manager of U.S. Consumer Skin Health West. “Neutrogena is proud to announce, ‘For People With Skin,’ a long-term commitment to our Brand’s legacy in skincare science and health advocacy, aiming to advance skin health for all.” Under this new mission, Neutrogena is taking action with the aim to overcome skin health barriers for all people, including the 130 million Americans who are impacted by skin health disparities due to socioeconomic status, race and ethnicity, and access to healthcare.
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 census.gov, IRI Research Analysis 2016, nielsen.com, mintel.com